Originally Published: December 8, 2013 6 a.m.
For over a century and half, the United States Army has had a presence in the Grand Canyon State. Scores of forts, cantonments and camps provided military protection, as well as contributing to the local economy and the social life in the areas that surrounded them. Most of the often-isolated outposts have long since disappeared, but some of the garrisons continue to play a significant role in Arizona to this day. Fortunately, several of these sites have museums where the past comes alive through exhibits and programs.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site in the southeastern part of the state offers a glimpse into what it is was like to be stationed at a remote bastion along the border with Mexico. Heading westward, Fort Huachuca boasts a fine museum that includes extensive presentations about the "buffalo soldiers" and the sweep of Arizona's military past. In Tucson, Fort Lowell is nestled in a local park where visitors can learn about this post-Civil War installation, and enjoy picnic facilities on the grounds.
Camp Verde, now known as Fort Verde State Park, is located northeast of Prescott and remains one of the best preserved posts in the Southwest. The first troops in the area were Union volunteers who made their home at Camp Lincoln, a temporary site named in honor of the 16th president of the United States. This locale came to be considered unhealthy, and once again, a new place was sought in 1871 along the banks of the Verde River. During the next two years, construction of both adobe and wood frame structures commenced chiefly through the labor of the cavalry and infantry companies assigned there. A magazine for ammunition and gunpowder was an exception, being built of stone to make it more fireproof.
Charles King was one of the more notable officers stationed at Verde. During the 1870s, this Fifth U.S. Cavalry officer was wounded while on duty at the post. He eventually was discharged because of this incident that nearly cost the loss of his arm. King turned to writing. Over his long life he penned over 60 books and hundreds of short stories and articles based on his experiences as an army officer. A number of his novels were adapted as theatrical productions and silent films.
Finally, the Whipple Barracks story here in Prescott now unfolds in one of the former officer's quarters. Both the military history and the subsequent medical history of this site, which now serves as a Veterans Administration hospital and center, are covered. Fort Whipple, established at its present location in 1864, was named for Lt. Amiel W. Whipple, who led a military expedition through northern Arizona in 1853-54. The fort served as a tactical base for the United States Army during the Indian Wars of 1864 to 1886, when it was also an entertainment center for the Prescott area. During the War with Spain in 1898, it served as the mustering point for local volunteers for the "Rough Riders" regiment.
Highlights from an official 1875 report released by the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office noted the post was located along the banks of Granite Creek, which afforded the garrison its source of water, and had been relocated to that site from its original situation some 24 miles northeast of Prescott (today's Chino Valley) were it was first founded on Dec. 23, 1863. On May 18, 1864, troops took up occupancy at the new reservation, which also served as headquarter for the military District of Arizona.
The original Fort Whipple was a classic "rectangular stockade, the walls of which formed the outer wall of the various building enclosed in it." The Granite Creek post was much more open and akin to a small town with barracks for enlisted personnel, quarters for officers, and an array of support buildings including a hospital - one of the first in Arizona.
The old fort lives on today as the Fort Whipple Museum, located on the grounds of the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott. Living history programs are held on the third Saturdays of February, May, August and November. For details of upcoming programs, please call Mick Woodcock at Sharlot Hall Museum 445-3122, ext. 17.
Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Contact 445-3122, ext. 14, or email email@example.com for information.